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Crown concludes case against Travis Vader

The Crown's case against accused murderer Travis Vader took much longer than expected, not concluding until near the end of the tenth week of the trial originally scheduled for just five.
Defence lawyer Brian Beresh (left) leaves court with his client Travis Vader.
Defence lawyer Brian Beresh (left) leaves court with his client Travis Vader.

The Crown's case against accused murderer Travis Vader took much longer than expected, not concluding until near the end of the tenth week of the trial originally scheduled for just five.

Last week, however, prosecutors called their last evidence and defence lawyer Brian Beresh began to call the defence witnesses.

Vader is facing two charges of first-degree murder for the July 3, 2010, murder of St. Albert couple Lyle and Marie McCann, who were last seen that morning filling up their motorhome at a St. Albert gas station. Their motorhome was found burning near the Minnow Lake campground two days later, and the green Hyundai SUV they were towing was found abandoned July 16 in a field near Edson.

His trial, which began March 7, 2016, and was scheduled to last just five weeks, is now into its third month with, potentially, several weeks left to go. The Crown case relies primarily on circumstantial evidence, as there have been no bodies found, no weapon found, and the presumed crime scene was destroyed by fire.

"Bandana" Dave Olson

One of the witnesses who ties much of the other evidence together is “Bandana” Dave Olson, one of Vader's associates who lived in Peers, Alta., and saw Vader the day he's alleged to have murdered the McCanns.

He testified that Vader visited his house twice July 3, 2010. The first time he was driving a tan-coloured Ford F-350, and had no money. Vader was looking for money to put oil into the truck, but as Olson was broke he had to settle for lawnmower oil that Olson could spare.

Olson testified Vader left after a short time, then returned in the late afternoon around 5 p.m. driving a green Hyundai SUV – the same make and model as the McCanns' SUV – and this time had a roll of cash in his pocket.

“He sent me to the store to get a $25 phone card and to pick up some beer,” he said. “He sent me to the store with $50.”

Sales receipts and cellphone records entered into evidence show that the phone card was used to top up the phone Vader was using during that period of time. The beer Olson bought and drank with Vader, Boxer beer in cans, also links Vader to the SUV, because a can of Boxer beer containing Vader's fingerprint and DNA was found inside the vehicle.

Olson also described Vader as “agitated,” and said he kept talking about trying to contact Amber Williams. Cellphone records combined with Williams' testimony suggest Vader sent two text messages to Williams from the McCanns' phone about five hours after they were last seen that day.

Beresh attacked Olson's credibility and motives during cross-examination, even suggesting that he was financially motivated to testify and get involved with the RCMP's witness protection program. Olson testified he had received about $24,000 worth of money and expenses from the police, with much of that money spent relocating him to a new community.

He maintained he testified not for personal motivation, but rather out of a sense of goodwill.

“It was the right thing to do,” he said. “Those could have been anybody's grandparents.”

Donald Bulmer

Vader's former roommate and friend Don Bulmer gave evidence that would seem to incriminate Vader.

He testified that on a Sunday in mid-July, he got home from work to his McKay, Alta., home and got a message from one of his roommates that Vader was stranded in Lodgepole, Alta., and needed a ride.

Bulmer drove out to meet him in Lodgepole, and the two drove about 20 miles (32 kilometres) to a remote location near a gas plant near Elk River Road. Vader loaded several items from a truck there into Bulmer's truck, including a big-screen TV, some DVD players, some tools, some bedding and a few bags.

Vader and Bulmer then hooked that truck up to Bulmer's with a chain, pulled it out onto the road then pushed it down the hill. Bulmer said Vader asked him to pick him up at the bottom of a hill a few minutes later. When he did so, he saw the truck was “engulfed in flames.”

He also testified Vader had had guns, which Bulmer asked him to remove from his property, and said Vader had been to his house on July 5 or 6 driving a vehicle he thought might have been stolen, but said he hadn't had a good look at it because “I didn't want to know.”

Sheri Campbell

One of Vader's former romantic interests, Sheri Lynn Campbell, testified she had had a lot of contact with Vader in early July.

Vader had come to visit her at the house in Edmonton where she was staying on July 1, 2010, driving a truck with a tidy tank in the back. Other witness have described in more detail a Ford F-350 with a tidy tank Vader was driving in early July, which had been stolen and was found partially burned two weeks later.

She said Vader had sent her a text saying he was coming to the city and she invited him over. When he arrived the two went upstairs to a bedroom.

“We sat and chit-chatted for a moment or two, then lay down and went to sleep,” she said.

She said she woke up at 10 a.m., and Vader woke up “a couple hours later,” but under cross-examination and re-examination she was unclear on when he had left, or whether she had even been at the house when he left.

In the following days the two exchanged texts, many with a romantic theme.

She said she got a phone call from him July 10 from an unknown number saying he needed help and was in Lodgepole, Alta.

She also confirmed she received texts signed by “T,” a handle the Crown has suggested Vader used in texts but that Beresh has suggested he never used.

Campbell also testified that Vader didn't appear to be having money problems in early July, 2010, but acknowledged a text message she sent referring to Vader getting her “da goods” and her being ready to “hustle” and “get us some serious green” may have referred to drugs.

She said she had used meth with Vader prior to July, but didn't use when they met on July 1.

Wiretaps

Much of the Crown's case may hinge on the content of recordings taken of Vader in his cell and using the phone at the Red Deer Remand Centre.

Nine separate recordings were played for the court and entered into evidence. While two of those were calls from Vader to his sister Bobbi Jo, in which they discuss Vader's alibi for the first part of July 2010, there are also several recorded conversations between Vader and his cell mate.

RCMP Cpl. Mark Sloan testified a man named Elmer Cardinal had approached police offering to act as an agent, motivated by a financial desire to claim the reward the McCann family had offered for information relating to Lyle and Marie's disappearance.

While the conversations in the recordings are difficult to make out and are unintelligible in some places, there are points of the conversations that are more clear than others.

In one, Vader can be heard describing the method which he would use to burn a truck.

In another one, Cardinal and Vader discuss his alibi for July 3, and note there are problems in that Bobbi Jo Vader's story and Sheri Lynn Campbell's stories don't match, and Cardinal suggests saying he saw Vader at “the bar” using the ATM.

“Yeah, we're going to have an airtight alibi,” Cardinal says at one point.

Outside the courtroom

Having already faced a bail review in relation to his release conditions, Vader has been since mid-April subject to additional conditions, including submitting to random drug tests and property searches.

Justice Denny Thomas also cautioned him that if he returned late from a break or from lunch one more time, he would revoke Vader's right to sit at the defence table and make him sit in the prisoners' box in the custody of sheriffs.

During the last week Crown presented evidence, however, Vader found himself back in police custody. He is now facing new charges of breaking and entering a west-Edmonton business on Tuesday and stealing less than $5,000 worth of property. He's also accused of being in possession of a stolen vehicle valued at less than $5,000 that same day. In relation to those charges, he's also charged with breach of probation and breach of a recognizance.

RCMP laid charges May 10 for two breaches of recognizance: one for testing positive for methamphetamines and another for contacting Crown witness Don Bulmer before he testified at the trial earlier this month.

While Vader is in custody, Justice Denny Thomas has nonetheless granted him permission to sit at the defence table during the trial, rather than the prisoner box.

This article summarizes the second half of the Crown's case against Vader. A summary of the first half, which was published April 16, 2016, can be read at www.stalbertgazette.com/article/Despite-many-delays-Vader-trial-has-covered-a-lot-of-ground-20160416.